Even the most dedicated family caregivers may need a break—whether it’s just to have a few days to themselves or to take an actual vacation. Respite care is a solution that can give that much-needed break to a caregiver, but what if your family member is resistant to the idea of outside care even for a little while? What can you do to overcome objections and help your parent understand the benefits that respite care provides?
“One of the most common barriers to using respite care comes from the parent who is resistant to engaging outside help,” says Rebecca Abenante, healthy aging coordinator for the David and Joan Powell Center for Healthy Aging at the Atlantic Health System’s Geriatric Assessment Center in Morristown, N.J. “Resistance happens for a variety of reasons. Illness, denial, personality, family roles, and relationships all play a role in one’s ability accept change and assistance.”
If your loved one is especially resistant to respite care, Abenante suggests you try to uncover the reasons for their resistance. “It is often helpful to look for the feelings behind the words,” Abenante says. As an example, a statement like “I don’t need strangers helping me” might mean “I’m embarrassed to have anyone but you help me.”
The solution, according to Abenante, is to acknowledge these feelings and try to look for ways to address them. “For example, Mom may be afraid that a respite stay in assisted living may be a stepping stone to permanent placement, which she’s adamantly against,” Abenante says. “In this case, it might be helpful to talk about the plan to return home when the respite stay is completed. You may also find that an opportune time to approach a respite stay conversation is while recovering from a hospitalization or illness. These are good transition points to help revaluate care needs for both your parent and yourself.”
It also might be a good idea to involve the primary doctor in the discussion. “Sometimes parents listen better to the professionals than their adult children,” Abenante says.
When all else fails, Abenante recommends being honest about your need to take a caregiving break. Reassure your loved one that a temporary break may end up being beneficial for both of you in the long run. “In spite of any initial push-back, most seniors tend to have a positive experience with respite care, even if they don’t verbalize this afterward,” Abenante observes.
Tips for Gaining Acceptance
Here are some other suggestions for facilitating your loved one’s acceptance of respite care:
- Talk about what kind of care they’d prefer to have. For example, says Abenante, “Would they want to try a short-stay in an assisted living facility or if possible, have a home health aide come stay at the house?” Abenante says.
- Involve your loved one with the selection of a provider. If possible, even visit the facility with your parent—perhaps for lunch—with the objective of allowing them to meet the staff and some of the residents whom they might encounter during their respite stay. “This can help alleviate some of the common ‘fear of the unknown’ many seniors experience when confronted with staying in a facility or accepting help at home, even for a short period of time,” Abenante says. “Keep in mind that if your loved one is struggling with memory changes, you may need to tailor these discussions to their level of insight and decision-making abilities.”
- Look for a respite care situation that will offer your family member unique experiences or a nice change of scenery. “For example, to ensure Dad had care during their summer vacation, one family arranged a respite stay at an assisted living community near the ocean that offered an evening beach-side concert series,” Abenante reports. “He had his own ‘vacation’ while his family had theirs.”
- Don’t make respite care a “one-and-done” experience. Even it doesn’t go as smoothly as you had hoped the first time, your parent might have a better experience on a second or third try. “As the amount of care that a loved one needs increases over time, many families find it beneficial to engage respite services multiple times,” Abenante says. “Having open, honest dialogues with your parents about the benefits for both of you in taking a break from one another can be helpful in encouraging them to try out care services.”
The most important thing to remember is not to impose respite care on your parent against their will. Make it a process where you seek their input and collaboration in the decision.
“Ultimately, by engaging your loved one in the process, you can help make respite care a successful experience,” says Abenante, “thereby opening the door to use services again in the future when it’s time for another well-deserved break.”
CHIME IN: What are some instances in which you might use respite care for your parents?